Observance – just what is that…?!

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As I write this, we are about to commence the observance of Advent for 2013. In reflecting on this, the word Observe stands out. It is an interesting word. In looking at various definitions of the word, one said, β€œTo Observe is to mark or to be attentive to something; to consider carefully.” (more…)

Commitment and Discipline

The Modern Monk Project and the Blog in particular have been a labour of love. As a person with a keen interest in how one might find the rhythm and pace of monastic life working in the modern world outside the confines of the monastery, I love it. As a natural writer, I love it. Maintaining a steady load of output in terms of the blog and materials production, especially when ones day work is not connected to the project – well, that’s the labour part!! (more…)

The Modern Monk Project Reboot set for Advent 2013!

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It is with much pleasure that I am able to announce the beginning of a new era in The Modern Monk Project. The project, which entered its 4th year in October 2013, has taken me on a Journey of peaks and valleys over that time. But a recent hiatus (more from blogging than from the Project itself) allowed me some space to listen and begin to dream with God about where the journey so far had brought me and where we were to go next…

And so I sit here today with Benedict’s Rule and my Bible developing the next phase which will see TMMP growing into a community working out their faith in Jesus together with the path illuminated by the Rule and many lost elements of Christian Spirituality.

I hope you will join me as the Project is rebooted at the start of Advent, Dec 1, 2013…

The Modern Monk is Coming Back…

It’s been a bit of a hiatus to rethink the Modern Monastic routine, but themodernmonk returns October 1. Some great stuff afoot… Stay tuned!

The Wisdom of Stability

‘The most important thing most of us can do to grow spiritually is to stay in the place where we are.’
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Author, The Wisdom of Stability

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Most readers of The Modern Monk Blog know that my personal spiritual journey is that of within a Christian tradition (not traditional Christian, mind you) with a Benedictine bent. I like to talk about it as walking along The Way, following Jesus with the path illuminated by The Rule of St Benedict. In other words, I follow a Christian path, and the way I walk it is in Benedictine shoes.

The Rule of St Benedict is an amazing little book. Written as a rule for monasteries that he set up in the early 6th Century, The Rule is not, as it sounds, a strict list of draconian laws to keep monks in check. Certainly it was taken seriously and a Monk who took their full profession were many times challenged by their superiors with The Rule as the benchmark.

But what The Rule provides is a structure in which to thrive. It provides a framework, if you will, or an order to maintain ones disciplines of their faith – prayer, work, ministry, worship, justice and so on. This is not necessary for all Christians. But for a systematic guy who needs structure and routine to operate well, The Rule gave me a safe ground within which to thrive.

Benedictines take a simple, three part vow. Obedience, Stability, Conversion of Life. And of these three, it is probably the second one that has been most illusive for most of my life. Which is a shame because the benefits of stability, as contrary to modern life as a stable life seems to be, are of great benefit to our communities. And because the idea is so counter-cultural, our communities suffer for lack of it…

I grew up an army kid. By the time I finished High School, I had lived in 11 houses. By the time I was married a couple of years later, I had lived in three more. And as I prepare to celebrate 20 years of marriage in three months time, my wife and I have shared life to date in 11 places we have called home. Of those 11, both my daughter (13) and son (11) have lived in 7 of them. On average for my son, that’s 1.57 years per house! For me, it’s 1.6.

What I have noted however is this desire I have for connection. I desire to live in community. I want to live in the place where I also shop, eat, play, work, run, worship and do life. I call it The Village Vibe. Problem for me is that I seem to live in a time and place in history and geography that doesn’t seem to have this many places any more.

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But The Village Vibe doesn’t exist because there is no where to do it. I reckon it doesn’t exist for two reasons. First, there is a loss of desire for community, so engaging in life with people in your village is darn hard. But second, building The Village Vibe requires a commitment to stability. And no one these days wants the “locked in” vibe of planting themselves somewhere forever.

Stability has so much going for it. Monks can’t run away from problems. They have to work them out. Monks don’t flit from one place to another. Relationships are for life. Monks don’t have a lack of purpose. They are part of a legacy that has built for some time in the place where they feel called to be; and that will continue long after they have gone. Monks don’t look to move onto the next big thing. The thing they are on now is where it’s at. It means the work they do has time to be planted, watered, grown and brought to bear fruit for the community in which they live and serve for generations to come.

There is something minimal about stability too. You don’t shift around so what you have and where you live – you tend to be committed to those things. You look after them and repair them and care for them in a way that differs from the one who can pack up and move to the better, brighter, bigger, more up-to-date.

And stability grows us in so many ways that we just cannot grow when we move around.

About 12 years ago, I went through a period of personal doubt about my call to ministry. I remember saying to a mentor that I felt like a palm tree – sure I was tall and bore good fruit, but my roots were shallow and it would have only taken a strong wind to blow me down. I remember saying I wanted to be an oak. It would take longer to get there, but I wanted deep roots and solid footing. And to get that stability required surrendering to somewhere.

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I honestly think that life would be so much simpler if we stopped looking and dreaming for the next thing that would be bigger and better and we committed to where we were. As my young wise and good friend Katie Ebenezer once posted on her Facebook status – The grass is always greener where you water it.

Cheers & Peace,

Br Mark G
~ aka The Modern Monk

Paul, Running, Me and Another Book?

I am loving the worship community we have decided to make our new church home. Well I say new – we’ve been attending Arundel Presbyterian since the New Year now – but even though we feel at home, the place always feels fresh. I’ll save some thoughts for another post, but let me say that I described this church to someone as “Strength in Humility”. Here is a church whose people and leadership are happy to be themselves and who God has called them to be, and not try to be the “latest and greatest”, whatever that means these days…

Anyway, today Ps Russell continued in the series on Philippians from 3:12-4:1. And I have to tell you, this was truly an epiphany for reasons that will become very clear very quickly.

Since the start of 2012, I have got back into running and running minimalist shoe/foot wise (barefoot really isn’t a shoe!) and ultra distances at that. In the past 15 months I’ve covered over 2000km including a half marathon, 25k trail race and 50k ultra. I have a few more 50k and 50 milers in my sights, with hopefully a 100k, 100miler and a crack at the “Coast to Kosciusko Ultra”, which runs 217ish kilometres from the NSW Coast to the top of Australia’s highest mountain within the next few years.

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All this time though I have wondered – WHAT HAS ALL THIS GOT TO DO WITH themodernmonk PROJECT?!

Okay, so I have found my running time to be prayerful and meditative. I love the connection with God I feel as I run, and my prayer space on the road or trail is just wonderful. But today, Ps Russell honed in on a point I cannot believe was illusive until today.

Have you ever noticed the number of running and race analogies Paul uses in his letters and that are found in other places in the NT?!

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Suffice to say, the whole sermon was a face palm for me in regards to this! Why did I not notice this before?! Suddenly the sense that my running has a larger Spiritual purpose beyond myself became a reality. And in some ways I am glad that I am over a year into my running journey. I don’t think I would have had the understanding of running before now to make the connections clear and see the depth in these illustrations.

So the seed for a new book is born…?! How about for now I post a blog soon on what I have learned about God when I run…

Till then,

Cheers and Peace,

Br Mark G
~ aka The Modern Monk

Of Snakes and Doves

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This year, the word that emerged with me from my three days of prayer, silence, solitude and fasting at the start of 2012 was “SURRENDER”. I have to honestly say I thought it had had it’s run. But right now, I am seeing the need to surrender in ways that are making it exceedingly difficult to do – more difficult than I imagined.

And so, to my surprise (or not so surprise), today’s homily from the Office of Readings from St John Chrysostom (one of my favourite early church fathers) is about, you guessed it, surrender. What was most surprising was his text from Matthew 10:16 – “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Doves innocent and surrendering, yes. But snakes?!

Here is an excerpt from what the Golden Tongue wrote. I hope you are as challenged and encouraged by it also.

“What cleverness is the Lord requiring here? The cleverness of a snake. A snake will surrender everything and will put up no great resistance even if its body is being cut in pieces, provided it can save its head. So you, the Lord is saying, must surrender everything but your faith: money, body, even life itself. For faith is the head and the root; keep that, and though you lose all else, you will get it back in abundance. The Lord therefore counselled the disciples to be not simply clever or innocent; rather he joined the two qualities so that they become a genuine virtue. He insisted on the cleverness of the snake so that deadly wounds might be avoided, and he insisted on the innocence of the dove so that revenge might not be taken on those who injure or lay traps for you. Cleverness is useless without innocence.”

Looks like in the last 32 days of 2012 I still have some inner work to do and some exercising of it in the outer world. May God give us strength by His Spirit to achieve this virtue which is so non-21st Century Christian, let alone person…

Cheers and Peace,

Br. Mark G
~ aka The Modern Monk

Meeting Acedia Before It’s Too Late

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I’m tired. Or at least I think I’m tired. It’s been a full on year, which tells me something – that I probably haven’t found the right balance of work, prayer and community in my abbey (read my family at my house for this Modern Monk). But that’s another story…

Right now I am thinking about the fact that I only think I am tired. In other words, I’m not sure if I’m tired. I feel all the symptoms, but sleep doesn’t seem to remedy the problem. Perhaps I’m not getting enough, or maybe there is something else in the mix…

Today, I finished Kathleen Norris’ brilliant memoir, The Cloister Walk. I highly recommend it (again though, that’s another story). As usual, the publisher had a page upon which some more of Norris’ book titles are printed to, I suppose, take advantage of the euphoria of the reader and get them to buy another title. (This is by no means a criticism of Ms Norris who I hope keeps writing so she needs to be paid somehow; and who unlikely had the option to say “no” to the idea of promoting her other titles). One of those titles caught my eye:

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Recently, I was a leader in our schools character development programme, The Journey, which is run with Yr 10 students every year. In that programme, acedia was a topic that came up in discussion about sloth. They are close cousins, the programme suggested; and in some ways this is true. But I’m not convinced that acedia and sloth are the same.

The Oxford Concise Dictionary of the Christian Church defines acedia as “a state of restlessness and inability either to work or to pray”. In the blurb about Norris’ book, it suggests another term for acedia is “soul-weariness”.

While I’m not quite in the place of being unable to work or pray, I can identify with the idea of being restless and soul-weary. In fact, just seeing that compound word – “soul-weariness” – in that blurb made me feel as if a yoke had been taken off my shoulders; that there was in fact a term to define how I have been feeling for a few weeks now. Acedia gives me an end point for the “symptoms” I feel, and now I can work on trying to avoid it.

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Desert Father, John Cassian, believed that the road for a monk out of acedia began with a rededication to their monastic vows. From there, his advice is to:
- work with their hands and to be present to their work;
- avoid getting carried away in memories and thinking and daydreaming;
- avoid too much sleep;
- avoid running away from ordinary routines;
- create a rhythm for ordinary work and ordinary prayer and spiritual practices and to stick to it.

It’s Cassian’s last point that hit me. The busyness and taking on some extra tasks has thrown out any schedule and rhythm to the work of prayer in my life. I’m beginning to see that it is the overwhelming feeling of keeping up coupled with the lack of Divine intimacy through prayer and Spiritual Disciplines that has made me feel the way I do.

And so, for the third or fourth time since The Modern Monk Project began, I re-dedicate myself to the (modern)monastic profession to living the Christian life with the road illuminated by the Rule of St Benedict. And rather than feeling negative about that figure, I instead feel a sense of reality about it – that the Christian life is not about perfection but about authenticity.

Besides, I am real enough to know that this rededication, as the previous 2 or three, is by no means likely to be my last…

Cheers & Peace,
Br Mark G
~ aka The Modern Monk

Humble Service – where does it start?

Mr Mike is a tailor of Indian descent. His shop, C&D Collection, is nestled in a Main Street in Chiangmai, Thailand, where he makes suits and dresses for men & women with his amazing array of fine fabrics. The guy is amazingly good – he had me measured up in under a minute – which could be a product of skill or the length of time he’s worked his trade, or both. This photo below was taken at my fitting literally 4hrs after being measured. The suit was available next day!

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But great suits aside, there is something about Mr Mike that this Modern Monk found fascinating; something that made my visit to Mr Mike just extraordinarily different to any shopping experience I ever have at home…

It’s called “Humble Service”.

The minute we walked into Mr Mike’s shop, we were waited on hand & foot. Mr Mike’s staff went nuts. The air-con was switched on, the comfy couch was cleared, one staff member went out and bought cokes for us. Amazing!

Funny enough, it’s possible that this comes from his Indian heritage. I remember jewellery stores in Hyderabad that would go out of their way like this. Sure, this could be viewed as simply a tactic to get you to buy. But even if that’s all it is, it’s still a long way from the “harrumph and I shall ignore you; please don’t disturb me with your question about having your size while I fold this shirt and talk to my co-worker” attitude I get in Australia – not always but quite often.

Mr Mike is a humble person whose heart is to serve his client with his skill and make for you a piece of art you can wear that will look and feel perfect for you.

The hallmark of Christian activity is humble service. Jesus didn’t just talk about it, he modelled it right down to foot washing and dying for others. And he didn’t grumble and complain about it either. He just did it and tells us that if we love him we’ll do it too.

I hope I can be like Mr Mike as I serve Christ and the people with whom I share the planet. Humble service. And it begins right here at home…

Cheers & Peace,

Mark G
~ aka The Modern Monk

Sabbath – Do You Keep It?

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Lots of things in the Bible challenge me about the way I live. Even outside of The Modern Monk Project – simply as a Christian – there should be a daily reflection on the scriptures in which I take a deep and sincere look at my life in relation to what I have read. But nothing – NOTHING – challenges me more at the moment than the notion of Sabbath.

Take a look at this video in which committed Christian and Columbia Pictures VP, DeVon Franklin, talks to Oprah Winfrey about his commitment to Sabbath as a Christian. Put aside for a moment any differences you might have about the day (Franklin is a Seventh-Day Adventist) and listen to how his commitment to his walk with Jesus takes priority in his life.

DeVon Franklin talks to Oprah about Sabbath

There are probably 101 or more reasonable reasons NOT to keep a Sabbath in the way Franklin describes. But I argue that not a single one of them will be a good one.

Sabbath is not just about rest; it is also about restoration. It is about giving control of our life back to God. On one day in a week, can we put aside our need to create – wealth, growth, ideas, etc – and just be, giving control of the creating back to God for just one day?

If we can’t there is something wrong.

Our modern world doesn’t want us to stop. And, we might argue, if we do and the world keeps going, we’ll get behind, right? In Toowoomba, Qld, the airport shuttle service shuts down from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday. On arguably the busiest time in a week (business people returning from weeks away in their jobs on a Friday night) this company run by committed Christians shuts to observe Sabbath. They don’t even get other staff to keep it going – everyone gets the day off.

But their business doesn’t falter and runs strong. That said, even if it didn’t, I suspect these people would not care! Their commitment to God and a day committed to Him is more important and they have chosen, even in the face of economic irrationality, to keep the Sabbath.

And before you try and argue on “law” taking control of these people’s lives, dare I encourage you to seriously consider the root of that argument – whether it’s really about your resistance to Sabbath.

That’s where Franklin’s last two thoughts in that video are mighty powerful, especially the second one. Here they are again:
1. If I embrace who I am, it will open doors, not shut them.
2. If your faith won’t fit in the door that opens, then I argue do not walk through that door. The door that God opens for you will fit your faith.

Go back and study the Sabbath laws and why God gave them to us. And then think carefully about your life. Does your faith fit in the lifestyle you lead? Perhaps rather than dropping bits of my faith that don’t fit my lifestyle, I should be dropping bits of my lifestyle that don’t fit my faith.

What are your arguments (generally or to yourself) about Sabbath keeping?

Cheers and Peace,

Br Mark G
~ aka The Modern Monk